Americans since 2011 have been permitted to visit Cuba under the US government’s highly regulated People-to-People program. Ever since the first tour groups arrived on the shores of the Caribbean’s largest island, restrictions have tended to keep American visitors under tight rein.
However, as attitudes at home toward the embargo continue to soften and Cuba itself feels more comfortable in its role of host to curious Americans, the reins are loosening. Adventure travel pioneer, Wildland Adventures (http://www.wildland.com/), is now delighted to fold Cuba into the company’s 30-year anniversary portfolio while making the most of new-found opportunities to explore beyond the bounds of the island’s iconic highlights such as Havana.
“We’ve done the research to really explore Cuba and to feature more outlying communities and natural reserves that only recently began receiving Americans. Our two brand-new itineraries support fledgling community-based ecotourism initiatives with opportunities for more intimate and authentic cultural exchanges for our travelers,” said Kurt Kutay, Wildland Adventure’s CEO and President.
An 11-day Captivating Cuba Coast to Coast tour ventures into regions not noticeably impacted by tourism. Company founders Kurt and Anne Kutay will accompany the first departure set for Nov. 27, 2016. The per person, double, rate is from $5,950. This itinerary offers scheduled departures into May 2018. The trip begins with flights from Miami to Havana and returns to Miami from Santiago de Cuba, the musical epicenter of the island. See: http://www.wildland.com/trips/caribbean/cuba/captivating-cuba-coast-to-coast/overview.aspx
Havana and the Heartland of Cuba is a seven-day itinerary focusing on lesser known and impressively distinctive UNESCO-designated small towns and nature reserves. This trip begins and ends in Havana with roundtrip flights from Miami. Departures are scheduled from early May 2017 through December 2018. The per person rate, double, is from $3,995. See: http://www.wildland.com/trips/caribbean/cuba/havana-and-the-heartland-of-cuba/overview.aspx
International air is not included in these rates (currently set at $550 RT subject to change).
So Why Cuba Now? Kutay offers these insights for prospective travelers:
– Visitors to Cuba who engage in People-to-People tours now enjoy greater opportunities to plan more diverse itineraries fostering individual one-on-one interactions with Cubans from all walks of life.
Heretofore Americans traveling legally on People-to-People tours in Cuba were strictly limited to a narrow range of people they could meet, where they could go and what they could do. Now, as a result of enhanced tourism infrastructure throughout much of Cuba, more interactive exchanges are sprouting up in diverse regions and communities. For example, there are more private B&B accommodations especially in the time-honored enclaves of eastern Cuba. This means that visitors can engage in thriving grass-roots community endeavors. Artists and academics, farmers and fishermen, musicians and dance troupes are all eager to share their stories.
– New, individual, People-to-People visas open doors for visitors to participate in expanded custom, private (guided) small group travel.
As of March 2016 tour licenses have expanded making it easier for companies to offer custom-designed itineraries. As Cuba embraces tourism, more and better infrastructure and specialized tourism services cater to small group travel. Custom trips must still comply with People-to-People requirements including 5-6 hours of planned and guided activities. But with Wildland’s network of guides throughout Cuba, there are new-found opportunities that can be adapted to individual interests of travelers.
– Wildland Adventures is now able to bring its authentic and intimate style of travel to Cuba thanks to the improved infrastructure of small, distinctive accommodations including historic boutique hotels and private casas particulares minimizing time in larger hotels.
There has been an incredible growth in the private sector catering to tourists, especially with private restaurants (paladars) and private bed and breakfasts (casas particulares). Casas particulares should not be considered traditional homestays because they operate as businesses. These accommodations have been modified allowing for more guest privacy (including private bath). However, the guest experience is not unlike a homestay for the genuine interaction one enjoys sitting around the breakfast table with enterprising Cubans who have turned their homes into lodgings not just for the money but also because they love the connection it brings with inquisitive Americans.
– The remote Cuban countryside and small rural towns are beginning to receive guests who seek the less developed and more traditional side of Cuba beyond the popular tourist enclaves of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Although Wildland does visit some popular not-to-miss sites in and around Havana such as Hemingway’s farm and Fusterlandia, they have gone to great lengths to escape motor coach tour groups and cruise ships in busy cities and harbors. Guests are free to explore outlying nature reserves and rural communities that have only recently begun to receive guests. However, the mission is still to provide authentic cultural exchanges.
– More of Cuba’s national parks and nature reserves are opening up for hiking, bird and wildlife viewing, along with greater opportunities for active adventures.
Ecotourism, on the rise in Cuba, encourages guides and local outfitters to engage in new ways with visitors. Wildland has developed a cadre of local naturalists and adventure guides who are ambassadors into Cuba’s 263 protected areas (covering 22% of its land base, including six UNESCO biosphere reserves). There is more territory now available to explore while viewing Cuba’s endemic and endangered wildlife species. Future plans to include more national parks with active adventures such as zip lining, kayaking, snorkeling and diving, horseback riding and cycling are in the works.
– Soon to come will be regular commercial flights providing reliable service and a greater range of flight schedules and same-day connections from major US cities.
Several airlines are preparing to offer direct commercial flights from major US cities to Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The process of traveling through Miami to board charter flights is somewhat inconvenient and costly, typically requiring overnight hotel accommodations in Miami both coming and going. As the embargo loosens and commercial carriers take off in this market, more frequent service is anticipated with direct flights from major US cities and more competitive fares.
For more information on the new Cuba programs as well as all of Wildland Adventures’ worldwide offerings, availability and reservations call 1-800-345-4453 or email [email protected]. Visit http://www.wildland.com/.